Though he is far from the main character in Clint Eastwood’s newly released film, Richard Jewell, Eric Robert Rudolph played a significant role in the series of events that forever altered the course of Jewell’s life. That’s because, as we now know, Rudolph was the man responsible for the 1996 Olympic Centennial Park bombing that Jewell was accused of in a relentless media flurry that ultimately tore his life apart — only, it would take nearly a decade for authorities to confirm Rudolph’s guilt in what is arguably a terrible case of “too little, too late.”
Rudolph was not a primary suspect in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack, which led to the death of one woman and the injury of more than 100 other Olympic revelers. He was, however, on law enforcement’s radar after witnesses identified his grey 1989 Nissan pickup near a Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic that was attacked in 1998, nearly two years after the Atlanta bombing.
Rudolph was also linked to attacks on another abortion clinic, located in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, in early 1997, and to a bomb that exploded at the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in northeast Atlanta, one month after that.
As a result, Rudolph was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List; he disappeared off the grid as a fugitive in the woods of Appalachia in subsequent years, though he was ultimately apprehended and arrested in May 2003 in Murphy, North Carolina, where he was hiding out avoiding the warrants out for his arrest.
In the following months, he pleaded guilty to the Atlanta-area bombings, and confessed to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in August 2005, thus officially clearing Jewell of any involvement with the attack (Jewell was subjected to three months of intense media scrutiny in the days following the 1996 attacks, and later sued several media outlets for libel).
In a detailed 11-page document, Rudolph explained the motivation for his actions, highlighting anti-abortion and anti-gay sentiments as his reason for attacking abortion clinics and gay nightclubs. With regard to the 1996 Olympic bombings, Rudolph explained that his hope was to “confound, anger, and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand. The plan was to force the cancellation of the games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested.”
As a result of his confession, Rudolph was sentenced to serve a total of four consecutive life sentences in prison, with an additional 120 years for good measure. He is currently still serving out his sentence at the ADX Florence Supermax federal prison.